If you have set and failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions year after year, you are not alone. Over 80% of the people who set them fail to keep them by the time January rolls over.
But this year, it doesn’t have to be.
You can set and nail your New Year’s resolutions successfully if you follow the right approach and this post can help you do just that.
Assuming shedding 50 pounds is one of your New Year’s resolutions this year, and before the next Christmas arrives, you are clearing out your wardrobe because your clothes no longer fit and you have dropped three sizes! How fantastic is that?
Or imagine this scenario: saving an extra $30,000 for a house deposit is your number one goal this year and, at the end of the year, as if by magic, $30,000 is there in your bank account. How good would that make you feel?
Many people have managed to achieve those before. Of course, you can too if you are equipped with the right tools.
This has got nothing to do with the carnivore diet but I’ve been writing about this diet for a while and would like to take a break and write about something else.
With the New Year fast approaching, I thought this might be a useful topic for some people so here it is.
In this post, we will first look at why many people set New Year’s resolutions, why they are likely to fail, and, if you want to succeed, what you must do instead.
What motivates people to set New Year’s resolutions?
Late December to early January every year is a festive period where most of us are in an upbeat mood: streets and homes are decorated beautifully, we drink, we enjoy plenty of delicious foods without guilt, we are in the company of our loved ones, we give and receive well-wishes and frivolous presents, some may even be holidaying somewhere beautiful.
And so we are in a joyful mood, we want the new year to be a great one, we want a fresh start and we want to turn a new page in life. And we sit down and make a list of resolutions for the coming year, usually without much thought about how we are going to achieve them.
Unless we are doing it on the spur of the moment to support someone or due to peer pressure, consciously or unconsciously, our resolutions aim to attain things we feel lacking or fix some underlying problems we face in life.
If your New Year’s resolution is to lose weight, your underlying problem could be:
- You have been overweight or obese and suffering from self-esteem issues and health related problems, or
- You have been struggling to find a partner and thinking losing a bit of weight will give you more confidence and improve your chance of finding that special someone, or
- You have some un-diagnosed medical issues that cause weight gain.
If your New Year’s resolution is to get out of debt, your underlying problem could be:
- You have unhealthy habits like drug, gambling or alcohol, or
- You suffer from some health problems that leave you with ongoing expensive medical bills and reduce your ability to earn a good income, or
- You have not been able to find a stable job for a while.
If your New Year’s resolution is to reduce stress, your underlying problem could be:
- You are working long hours in a job that you hate, or
- You are overwhelmed by family responsibilities like looking after your children and ailing family members at the same time, or
- Your relationship with your other half has been under strain.
According to some surveys, more than 70% of people in the U.S. make New Year’s resolutions every year.
Making a commitment to sort out your life problems through resolutions at the beginning of each year is a good start but, unfortunately, you won’t go very far if you don’t have a good understanding of the underlying problems. You will only be scratching the surface rather than digging deep to find and fix the causes of your problems.
What are the most popular New Year’s resolutions?
- Exercise more
- Eat healthier
- Lose weight
- Save money
- Reduce stress
- Take up a new hobby
- Spend less time on social media
- Spend more time with family
- Drink less
- Quit smoking.
A common feature of these resolutions is that they are all about improving people’s personal life. Physical and mental health and personal finance seem to be the primary focus.
Imagine how much happier and better the world would be if just a third of the world population who attempts to improve their health and finance every year actually achieve their goals?
I know it is a big ‘if’ but not impossible if people are taught how to set appropriate goals and how to achieve their goals.
What is the chance of success in keeping your New Year’s resolutions?
A number of studies looking at the success rates of New Year’s resolutions have found that around 80% to 90% of people failed.
In fact, a study has found that most people already quit their New Year’s resolutions as early as January 19.
This means for the overwhelming majority of people, by the end of the year, they are back where they start, i.e. they fail to solve all those underlying problems that are affecting their lives
According to Time magazine, below are the most commonly broken New Year’s resolutions:
- Lose weight and get fit
- Quit smoking
- Learn something new
- Eat healthier and diet
- Get out of debt and save money
- Spend more time with family
- Travel to new places
- Be less stressed
- Drink less.
As you can see, obviously, the odds are against you if you want to turn the corner and make your life better by sitting down at the end of the year and making a list of New Year’s resolutions.
Now let look at the reasons why most people fail.
Why do people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions?
People fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions or achieve their goals for many reasons but the common ones are listed below.
1. Setting goals or resolutions that don’t matter much to you
If your goals don’t matter to you much, you won’t be fully committed to achieving your goals and are likely to fail.
Losing weight is amongst the most popular New Year’s resolutions. That’s perfectly fine, we all want to lose those spare pounds of fat and look and feel better.
However, in some circumstances, losing weight is not the priority and it doesn’t matter much to you whether you do or don’t achieve this goal.
For example, if you have just given birth to a baby, like most mothers, weight loss is unlikely to be the most important thing in the world right now. Your mental and physical health and the health of your baby are your priorities right now, not losing weight.
If you have just suddenly lost a close member of your family and are still in a state of shock and numbness, even if you are a bit overweight, weight loss doesn’t seem like a relevant goal right now.
2. Failing to focus on goals that are of utmost importance
Not prioritizing your goals, failing to understand the time and money needed to achieve each goal, and spreading your resources too widely instead of focusing on the most important ones will make them all impossible to achieve.
If you have a track record of failing to keep your New Year’s resolutions year after year, check to see how many resolutions you often set each year.
This year, make a list of resolutions and think about it for a week or so. Decide afterward which one is the most important goal you want to achieve this year. Cross out all other resolutions and focus on this single goal only for the whole year.
3. Setting unrealistic goals
Setting goals like ‘I will be fluent in Japanese ahead of my trip to Japan next year’ when you have been a monolingual all your life or ‘I will get six-pack abs this year’ when you haven’t done any serious exercises since you left high school might not get you anywhere.
We are all different, others may have been able to achieve something so easily, that doesn’t automatically mean you can too. On the other hand, you may be able to accomplish things that others consider impossible.
Psychologically, setting a goal that you are confident of achieving and eventually overachieving your goal are much better than setting a challenging goal and failing.
4. Setting vague goals
Vague goals like I will eat healthily, I will get into shape this year, I will cut down on alcohol, I will save, money, etc. are set to fail because many people fail to convert them into specific tasks to be done daily, weekly, or monthly.
And if you don’t turn these vague goals into measurable targets and specific tasks, they will unlikely get done, and after a few misses, you are likely to just throw in the towel and give up.
5. Failing to find the best solutions to reach the goals
New gym membership spikes in January every year because people often think about the gym first when they think about getting fit and losing weight.
But there are literally endless ways to become fitter and slimmer: changing your diet, doing bodyweight exercises at home, going to the gym, picking up a sport, running, learning to dance, walking, swimming, riding a bike, swapping a desk job for a more physically demanding job, you name it.
If you hate repetitions, the gym is definitely not for you.
Therefore, even if you have set the right goal, you still need to find the best or, at least, the appropriate solution to reach your goal.
6. Having no action plan
People don’t often think of a plan and that is why most of them fail to achieve what they want and dreams forever remain dreams.
Businesses, or at least the big ones, do these all the time. They have vision and long-term and short-term goals. They have market research, analysis, and strategies. They have a SWOT analysis, they have marketing and sales plans and financial projections. They determine the resources required to implement the plan.
So yes, you definitely need an implementation plan if you want to succeed.
A plan can be simple like: I will go for a 30-minute walk four times a week and go for a one-hour swim three times a week if your goal is to increase your fitness level.
However, it could be very lengthy and complex like a small business plan if your goal is to become financially independent and retire by the age of 30.
7. Failing to implement the plan if there is one in place
One of the biggest mistakes that people make is not incorporating tasks that need to be done to achieve their goals into daily schedules and turning them into new habits.
Forming new habits is the key to ultimately reaching your goals.
8. Giving up at the first hurdle
Most people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions when January rolls over because they have not envisaged obstacles that surely will crop up along the way.
They fail to realize that like everything in life, there are ups and downs and peaks and troughs, and you have to learn to deal with problems along the way if you want to achieve anything meaningful.
What should you do instead?
As mentioned above, New Year’s resolutions are likely to originate from some underlying problems: we set goals or resolutions in the hope of solving problems that we face in life and making our lives better.
However, most people fail to keep their resolutions because they probably get it wrong at every step of the way, from setting inappropriate goals to failing to identify the best solution, having no action plan, failing to implement their plan, or giving up at the very first hurdle.
So what can you do to avoid making those mistakes and improve your chance of success?
The answer is you don’t need to re-invent the wheel, you just need to follow a proper problem-solving framework.
Life problems, such as how to lose weight, get fit, stress less, get out of debt, or travel more, are just problems after all and there is no reason why they can’t be solved using a problem-solving framework – a systematic process that is being used by corporates and governments alike to solve their major problems. You may even have come across it before in solving problems at work but never thought of using it to solve your personal problems.
However, life is certainly not just about solving existing problems, it is also about finding your element and chasing your dreams, going on adventures and taking risks, having fun and helping others, living a life with a purpose, and leaving your marks.
Therefore, I would propose that instead of having a myopic view about life and focusing on its short-term problems, this year, do a thorough review of your past, envision your future, identify and prioritize the gaps between where you are now and where you want to be, and then set your long-term and short-term goals accordingly.
The short-term goals can then become your annual goals or New Year’s resolutions if you like to call them that way.
This systematic approach to setting long-term and short-term goals is superior compared to randomly setting New Year’s resolutions which is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to some underlying life problems.
By following this approach, you will be the designer, maker, and driver of your life. You will be actively envisioning your future, designing and shaping your life, and not just merely drifting and trying to sort out problems you encounter along the way.
In the section below, we will look at this as a part of the overall problem-solving framework.
The general framework summarized below is primarily based on the work of Gary Hadler. If you would like to read it in further detail, check it out here.
Step 1: Define your problem and set your goals appropriately
In a typical problem-solving framework, the first step is to define the problem you are trying to solve, i.e. determining the goals you want to achieve.
To have any realistic chance of achieving your goals, they need to be set appropriately.
Overly ambitious goals will backfire.
Goals that aren’t important enough or not aligned with your set of values will not motivate you.
Goals that are not specific and measurable will not hold you accountable.
Furthermore, they need to be set within the context of your overall long-term vision for your life.
In order to set goals that meet the above objectives, I suggest you follow the steps below.
i) Knowing where you are
If you are amongst the minority who look back and assess their life regularly and have a good idea of where they are in major aspects of their life, feel free to jump to the next section.
If you have never done this exercise before in your life, now is a great time to do it.
Grab a pen and a notebook, leave your phone behind, find a quiet corner where you can totally focus on reflecting and contemplating about your life without distraction.
In taking stock of your life, you will look at all major aspects of your life. The main ones are below and you can add anything else that you feel is important to you that I have missed.
- General. Treat yourself life a stranger and interview yourself, asking questions like:
- Where were you born?
- How were you were raised?
- What was school life like?
- What were your childhood dreams?
- What are your passions now?
- What are your talents?
- What was your first job?
- What are your life milestones?
- What are you most proud of yourself? etc.
- Physical health. Ask yourself questions like:
- What do you think your general status of health is?
- Have you suffered from any chronic long-term illnesses in your life?
- Do you smoke, drink or take drugs?
- Do you exercise regularly?
- What do you think of your current diet?
- Is your weight normal?
- Does your family have a history of cancer, diabetes and dementia? etc.
- Mental health. Ask yourself a few questions like:
- How have you been feeling lately?
- Have you been eating and sleeping well?
- Do you often feel low on energy or tired all the time?
- Do you often feel like being alone and avoiding interactions with other people?
- Do you resort to food, alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism?
- Have you ever been a victim of crime, domestic violence or mishandling of the justice system?
- Have you ever tried or thought of self-harm?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness? etc.
- Relationships. Ask yourself questions like:
- Are you in a relationship and, if so, the state of your relationship?
- Do you have a good support network of family and friends?
- Do you have one or several best friends?
- How is your relationship with your colleagues?
- Do you talk to your neighbours?
- Do you feel like you are a part of the local community?
- Education. Ask yourself questions like:
- What kind of education have you had so far?
- Did you finish school?
- Did you go to university?
- Do you have a qualification in a specific area?
- Does what you learn help with your current work?
- How have you been keeping your knowledge and skills up to date?
- Work. Ask yourself questions like:
- What kind of work have you been doing since leaving school/university?
- Have you been happy with your work?
- Are you on a career path that you want?
- Do you think the current job suits your personality and personal circumstances?
- Do you want to change?
- Are you ready for a change?
- Finance. Ask yourself questions like:
- What is your current financial situation?
- Do you own your own home?
- Do you have insurance for your major assets?
- Do you have any investments and how well have they been performing?
- Do you have any savings?
- Do you have any debts?
- Are you living comfortably with the current level of income or living paycheck to paycheck?
- Do you have an emergency fund?
- Do you budget?
- Do you have a financial advisor?
- Do you have a retirement plan?
- Do you have a will?
- Do you have a long term financial goal and plan?
- Legacy. Think about what you have done so far in your life and the impact you have on your family, relatives and friends. Ask yourself questions like:
- Did you make any positive difference to the life of people around you?
- Do you feel you have made a difference to places you have worked for?
- Do you volunteer?
- Do you make a positive contribution to your communities?
- Who do you think will miss you if you are gone tomorrow and what will they remember you for?
- Fun. Ask yourself questions like:
- How have you been spending your spare time?
- Have you been pursuing your hobbies?
- Do you have a bucket list and, if you do, have you been ticking them off? etc.
ii) Envisioning where you want to be in the future
Next you will envision where you would like to be in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years or at the end of your life.
People can do far more than they think they can, so set yourself free, shoot for the stars and you may end up on the moon.
Similar to the above review, envision where you want to be with regard to the following major aspects of your life:
- Physical health:
- What state of health would you like to be in over that period of time?
- If you are granted one wish in relation to your health, what wish would you like to have?
- Is there anything you would like to change in relation to your health?
- Mental health:
- What state of mental well-being do you wish to be in?
- If you have a mental health condition, would you like to find a way to resolve it somehow or at least manage the condition?
- Even if you are free of those serious mental health problems, are there any areas where you would like it to improve?
- What kind of relationship would you like to have with your immediate family, relatives, friends and others around you?
- Would you like to find your significant other in that period of time?
- Would you like to start a family?
- Would you like to have children and how would you like to raise them?
- What new skills do you want to have?
- What additional qualifications do you want to pursue?
- What would you like to do to continue your professional development?
- What kind of work would you like to do in the future?
- Do you want to try a few different career options to find out what makes you tick?
- Do you want to go back to university, learn a new skill and start your career all over again?
- Do you want to start your own business or grow the existing one and in what direction?
- Do you want to be successful?
- What does success mean to you?
- What would be your dream financial position in 20 years’ time, 30 years’ time or by the time you retire?
- Would you like to be financially independent by then?
- Would you like to own your own home and have an investment for a comfortable retirement?
- Would you like to start your own business?
- Would you like to have enough to live on and devote the rest of your time to a charitable cause?
- Legacy. Think about what you are passionate about, what you can do and want to do with your life. Ask yourself:
- What legacy do you want to leave behind?
- What do you want people to remember you for?
- What do you want people to say in your eulogy?
- What impact do you want to have on people around you, your community and your country?
- Is there any cause that you are passionate about but haven’t been able to pursue?
- Fun. If money is not a concern:
- What do you enjoy doing most with your time?
- What activities would make you laugh, relax and feel happy?
- Are there any places you want to visit before you die?
- Do you want to start learning a musical instrument or pick up drawing?
- Do you want to start a club, form a band with your friends or join a choir? etc.
The above are just some example questions to give you an idea.
You can use them or discard them and make up questions that are more relevant in your case.
iii) Identifying gaps and setting your priority
After you finish the above exercise, you will need to identify the gaps between where you are now and where you want to be. You will then prioritize them and decide for yourself which gap you want to focus on right now.
You might want to do it in a table format as follows:
|Life aspect||Where you are||Where you want to be||Gap||Importance ranking||Priority ranking|
If you have a track record of setting New Year’s resolutions and failing to keep them, I strongly suggest that you focus on just one area that matters to you the most for this first exercise.
iv) Setting your goals appropriately
Once you’ve zeroed in on your most important priorities, it’s time to put down a concrete set of goals for the foreseeable future.
You could set your long-term goals for the next 3 years, 5 years or 30 years, it’s up to you.
Talking about long-term goals, Joe Biden is a prime example. He harbored a presidential dream since childhood and first ran for president in 1988 but failed. However, he finally succeeded 32 years later after three attempts.
It’s your life, it’s up to you how far ahead you want to set your goals for, you can always change it later.
With a long-term goal in mind, you can now set your medium-term goals for five to three years and break them down into shorter term goals for example for the next couple of years.
Now you are in much better position to set goals or New Year’s resolutions for this coming year.
These goals will fit in with your long-term vision and long-term goals that you’ve set for your life. Thanks to the above exercise, they will also matter the most to you. In addition, make sure they are realistic, specific and measurable too.
Step 2: Find possible solutions to reach your goals
In this step of the process, you simply list down all possible solutions you can think of.
If your goal is to save money for a house deposit, potential solutions could be get a better paid job, get a side job, sell your car and use public transport, move back with your parents, rent out a spare room, sell all unused stuff, etc.
If your goal is to lose weight, you could do it with diet alone, with exercises alone or with a combination of both. Within diet and exercise, there are also many possible options to choose from. You could also get a medical check-up to rule out hormonal problems that may cause weight gain in the first place. Just list them all down at this stage.
If your goal is to quit smoking, you can choose to quit cold turkey, quit gradually, quit with help of nicotine replacement therapy, switch to e-cigarette, try hypnotherapy or use cognitive behavior therapy.
There are often multiple possible solutions to a particular problem, committing to what first comes to your mind is never ideal.
By brainstorming, doing your research, studying success cases, querying services available, you will have a good idea of what is available before assessing what is best to get you where you want to be given your personal preferences and circumstances.
Step 3: Identify the best solution
Once you have all possible solutions laid out in front of you, it is time to assess what is the best way to reach your goals.
Depending on your personal circumstances, you can set criteria for choosing the best solution for you. In some cases, a simple list of pros and cons or advantages and disadvantages, level of uncertainty, effects, consequences and implications etc. is sufficient.
For example, there are endless ways to get fit. If your criteria are just time and convenience and money is not an issue, you could choose to hire a personal trainer to turn up at your house four times a week and you don’t have any excuse not to do it.
On the other hand, if you have a limited budget and limited time, you could choose to incorporate your activities during the day like riding your bike to work, taking the stairs to your office and going for a short walk after lunch.
For more complex problems and more ambitious goals, you can make it formal by having a scoring system.
Step 4: Develop an action plan
The next step is to prepare a plan. If you want to go somewhere, you need to have an idea of the destination, a transportation method to get there and a roadmap which will be your detail plan. A complex plan can include things like:
- What needs to be achieved over what timeline
- What specifically needs to be done monthly, weekly and daily to achieve the targets/milestones
- Who should do what
- How it should be done
- What resources are required
- Where it should be done
- How should performance be measured
- What types of record-keeping /reporting are required
- How progress should be monitored
- Who leads/co-ordinates the implementation of the action plan
- What should be done when things go wrong
- How should the unexpected or contingencies be dealt with
- How frequent should performance/progress be reviewed.
Simple plans to achieve a personal goal, however, may just have a few items.
Step 5: Implement the plan
This is when you actually carry out the tasks specified in the plan to reach your goals.
No matter how wonderful you have done in the previous four steps, you are probably only around ten percent of the way.
Without actually performing the plan by taking a small step every day, you will never solve your life problems or achieve your goals.
If your goal is to write the first draft of your novel this year, mark a spot in your calendar every day when you must sit down and write 300 words. Don’t go to sleep without finishing the 300th word.
If your goal is to get fit, put in at least 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercises a day plus a lot of accidental exercises throughout the day.
If your goal is to spend more time with your family, mark a time in your calendar when you will put your phone away to play with your kids, talk to your partner, or call your relatives.
If your plan is to save money for a house deposit, set up automatic transfer to an expense account and spend only the amount you’ve budgeted. If there is any money left over at the end of the month, transfer it to your savings account.
There is no magic formulae to success.
You just have to take a small manageable step every day for many days and even years in order for something significant or magical to happen overnight.
Step 6: Review, revise and reward yourself.
Reviews are a must to help you assess your progress, whether your goals are too ambitious or too easy, whether the path you choose to achieve your goal turns out to be the right one, or whether you have the necessary resources to achieve what you want.
If you under or over achieve what you set out, you will need appropriate revisions to your plan.
Reviews should be carried out at regular intervals such as monthly, quarterly or half-yearly.
However, if things have not gone as planned substantially at any stage, an urgent review is needed. Some important elements of the solution or the whole plan may need serious tweaking.
Even with all the detailed planning, do expect failures along the way and don’t beat yourself up for it. It’s a part of the whole process and you will learn valuable lessons.
You just have to find out where you’ve gone wrong, fix it and keep going. You only fail when you decide to give up.
Failure is not the opposite of success, it’s part of success.
When you realize that, you free yourself from the fear of failure.
In life, failure is inevitable. And the best leaders learn from their failure. They use it as a tool to become successful.Arianna Huffington
A holistic and systematic approach will ensure long-term success
If it sounds to you like a long winding road just to nail a New Year’s resolution, it is because it’s how you guarantee success.
It is how you separate yourself from 90% of the people who never succeed, who set their New Year’s resolutions just to give them up shortly after and tell themselves at the end of the year ‘Oh, another year’s gone by, how time flies! What have I done?’
Those are the people who fail and blame circumstances and everyone else but themselves for their failures, who sleepwalk and drift aimlessly through their entire life, who only exist and never truly live.
And the rewards for your commitments and efforts are tremendous.
Once you have mastered the necessary skills to nail just one annual goal or one New Year’s resolution successfully, you can apply it to other areas of your life or other goals you want to set for yourself, whether it is to simply help you get rid of some stubborn belly fat, save for a house deposit, improve relationships with your family, make a midlife career change or provide clean water to a town in Africa, set up a scholarship program for disadvantaged kids or design a flying car and find a cure for cancer.
And that is how you change your life and others around you for the better, taking one step at a time and achieving one small goal after another.
You hear people say all the time that they are stuck and that there is not much they can do to change their circumstances and that they wish this and that could happen and that life is unfair. I think they are wrong in most cases.
There are always a lot of things that you can do to turn your life around, change your life for the better and it starts with you and mostly up to you. If you don’t change, nothing changes. If you don’t help yourself, nobody will.
And that is what a holistic systematic approach to reviewing your life, having a long-term vision and setting appropriate goals is about.
It helps you look within yourself, find out what you really want to do with your life, what your passions and talents are, what makes you tick, what your dreams are and how you find the wisdom and strength within you to make them a reality.
In summary, if you want to change your life for the better, don’t set New Year’s resolutions, instead, learn how to set goals appropriately, identify all possible routes to get there, choose wisely, have a plan and turn your plan into action.
This post has become a lot longer than I had originally planned but it’s been really fun and enlightening for me to research and write and I hope you find it helpful.
Thank you for stopping by and I wish you all the very best for the new year!
As someone once said “you can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can always start where you are and change the ending”.
May this year be the one when you will begin taking charge of your life, believing in yourself, having long-term visions, dreaming big dreams and turning them into reality and writing a beautiful ending!
If you find this post helpful, please consider sharing this post and my site with your family, friends, and followers. That would be much appreciated. Please also check out my library of articles on the carnivore diet here which is updated regularly.
Disclaimer: The information in this post is for reference purposes only and not intended to constitute or replace professional medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle.
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